Saturday, February 19, 2011

That's a Frustrating Question

I am currently reading a chapter from the book, Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine (The Christian Practice of Everyday Life) by Joel Shuman and Brian Volck, M.D. called, "What are Children For?" First of all, the very title is enough to reel me in, being one who has some strong interest in medicine or rather "not taking" medicine (seriously, the decision to not take hormonal birth control seemed like one involving life or death), secondly, it's challenging. Ask yourself what those sweet, cute, or maybe at times annoying, whiny, creatures are for? I've found myself asking the same things at various times through out my life, especially when I was really struggling with my identity and future: are children (or maybe i should say human life) necessary for any purpose other than selfish reasons? It's an interesting question and this chapter kind of sums it up (this post might be more quotes than anything else).

When asking the question in today's world I would have to answer that family life, children, and even humanity seem to be to complete the cycle, a cycle that maybe is just an unconscious invention of society. I believe it's still a modern construction that we're supposed to grow up, get married, get a job, have some kids (one two or three), and go along hoping for no bumps or interruptions to this easy road. This is a normal, good life, and one we're either supposed to reject or accept to be "normal." And it's readily available for everyone. No matter our religious views I believe we're still deeply entrenched in the cultural ideal of "controlling your destiny." So, I was so thrilled to read in the opening paragraphs of this chapter that we, in modern society, operating from a viewpoint that you really can have whatever you want due mainly in fact to technological advancements, are subtly "alter[ing] the way we see our children." It is remarked upon by Jackson Lears who said, "that Victorians transformed children from miniature adults to superior pets. The subsequent hundred years has further transformed children into something more like a consumer item." And this is where I really don't have to say anything further because I read this next part which is just too good. Read it.

"Ethicist Amy Laura Hall notes how contemporary sentimental images of children differ from those only a few decades earlier:
Look at the Ann Geddes pictures, an image of a child as a pumpkin, or a child as a flower: the baby as the commodity you get to consume or pluck and put in your vase, versus the kind of images you have with Norman Rockwell. Amost all of his images of children are children with skinned knees, are of the chaos of kids-I think about hte one with the boys running and trying to pull up their pants, they've been swimming in the water hole with their dog. The images of children that he depicts are children with other children, who are showing signs of mess, which children inevitably are...[Anne Gedde's images are]...a kind of really dangerous idolatry...a kind of purely platonic form of "baby," the "baby" one can fashion according to one's own desires, the "baby" as consumable. And notice that those babies never have a sign of food on themselves; if you know anything about toddlers they are constantly covered in food. These pictures are children that do not consume; these are babies that we consume. And those icons of childhood are indicative of a dominant culture in America that sees children as a way to accessorize and fulfill one's own life, rather than as interruptions into our own hopes, dreams and goals.

So I could go onto a million different tangents from this text (one being, "see?!? This is why I really want to take children's portraits, and why I really don't want to shoot them in a studio space but rather the spaces they are most "childish." ) but I'll try to just say that this, as insignificant as it may seem, really does show an altered state of perception. We don't want to be out of control, we want perfection in our lives, and frighteningly there are several ways to go about having or at least having the illusion of said perfection.

The authors go on to further question, "then what are they for?" They begin talking about how Stanley Hauerwas asks his students the similar question and he receives answers about how "Children are fun" or "a hedge against loneliness" or "a manifestation of our love" to which he disputes such claims (by saying things like, "think about your brothers and sisters...get a changes.") Which still begs the question then, "so what is the answer?" So the authors talk about how life must be seen as a gift from God ("incomprehensible outside of relationship with God."). They even go so far as to say that life is not sacred because only God is sacred--God gives us life and we are to "respect life but not worship it." BUT "if a particular life can be called "sacred," it is only in the awareness that this particular body is God's unique irreplaceable gift." Therefore to accurately view "life" we should as Christians see new life as "extravagant gifts, yet subordinate to the greatest gift of salvation through Christ." I think this is showing that it might be true that we have all we could possibly need through Christ--all our needs have been met through His ultimate gift, yet we are still given other gifts (like children, family, friendship, etc) but that they can only be viewed properly through the lens of Christ. "...the family, and indeed any human relationship, can never be regarded as an end in itself." i.e. we need to do something Good with these things we've been given.

Again, we have had all our needs met through Christ and so when we begin to think that family, children, friendships are entitlements that through modern technology and consumption we can meet our own needs and wants is an altered perception and we should instead focus on children and all human relations as really huge gifts that overwhelm. What do we do with these things?! What do I do with this life that is growing inside me?! What do I do when my perfect plans have been dashed? What do I do when I don't have a "real" job or am still in school with a child? What do I do when life isn't looking the way I planned? Well I think that's where the practices of being a Christian come into play, as the authors say, "all gifts-including the gift of children-are to be received in confidence and gratitude." Through faith, Seth and I are praying we can receive this really beautiful gift gracefully and well, not so as to have our own needs met but to better understand the larger Christian story of being humbled, broken and receiving the Good Grace that only Christ provides. Further, parenthood, as a part of this Christian narrative, is going to be about this running utterance throughout my blog entries about "welcoming the stranger;" thankfully, "What are Children For" further elaborates on these ideas and I will be sure to share them as I read them. :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Something I Want My Child to Know

I made a mistake today. Probably tomorrow or even later tonight I will think nothing of it, but I probably disappointed or frustrated someone today and I feel terrible and embarrassed about it. When I make mistakes I typically don't learn from them, rather, I hide from them. I try to hide or retreat further into this shell that in the past has kept me from living. It is the same voice that tells me that I can't do anything whether "anything" is: getting my blood drawn, going to class, excelling at art, doing something "well" or "Good," or speaking up, or being a good friend or ultimately, person. Somewhere I have learned that I don't have much to offer and when I make mistakes I further reinforce my warped idea with some sort of seclusion. It. Feels. Awful.
When I was really beating myself up over my mistake however some glimmer of hope or something sparked in my brain. I started thinking about how much I needed someone to tell me that it's not a big deal, and that got me thinking of parents, and that got me realizing that I'm going to be a parent (if I'm not one already--I mean I'm already telling the baby, "no" to the hostess cakes and nutty bar section). This baby is gloriously already changing my perceptions and I am so blessed.
I want my child to know that mistakes and accidents are going to happen, but most importantly, mistakes and accidents and failures (even when it involves failing another) is not reason to think of yourself as less or worthless, with nothing further to offer. The best way to reconcile these mistakes is to be honest and open about said mistakes, and to apologize when and where an apology is due (not to save one's skin and further perpetuate self-loathing). I want my child to know that forgiveness and grace are real beautiful things in the world, examples of the Love of Christ that we so brilliantly get to be a part of. I hope to be a first hand example of that kind of Love.
If my child knows this, I hope he or she will know not to cripple with fear over making a mistake. I pray that I can learn these things myself so as to be that living example for my little lime (that's how big they say he/she is!).

11 weeks. Maybe nothing, but my stomach looks different to me.

So. That was my lesson (to myself) for the day. Next will probably be, school is not everything--getting less than perfect grades is not bad--perfectionism is kind of a disease, maybe a lesser one, but one that can spiral out of control--one that is an indicator of something bigger--something I haven't figured out yet.
Besides a disappointing afternoon, the morning was great and I got to do the things I really enjoy doing. After a week of tests and projects, I got to open the house up to the fake-spring warm weather, drink a smoothie outside in a martini glass, experiment with some expired film, clean the kitchen and do laundry. Most of all I began planning our garden. Seth and I may be in over our heads with the projects we want to do by summer time (one involves chicken cooping) but it's so fun to think of our house as slowly but surely turning into a house of production. This year I am going to be growing lots more greens and radishes (last year I discovered I loved these) no corn (stupid squirrels) and hopefully some onions.

banana blueberry yohgurt peanut butter, it's good for us.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Watch Out: I'm the Scrooge of Valentines Day

I hate Valentines Day. I've never liked it, and I don't think it's because I'm bitter about it or because I've received bad gifts. A girl magazine would read, "I'd take the lame and weird gifts over nothing at all," I just have to roll my eyes. First of all, it's totally a girl's holiday. I've never heard of a guy having a bad Valentine's day gift or getting weepy and emotional about it. It totally perpetuates this consumerist idea that women are nagging creatures who just eat up one's pay check. It perpetuates the very idea that we need gifts and attention to make us happy--a love that freaking CAN be bought. It's so dumb.
I understand that those who might see differently than me might say, but it's just nice to have a day that is dedicated to showing someone you care. It might sound cliche of me to say that every day should be an opportunity to show your love and affection to the one that you are with, but more than that, why be a part of such an arbitrary holiday, something so individualistic, something that goes so against what a good relationship should be (inclusive, community building, off the scale of materialism). We do not last in a bubble of love; this is not sustaining, but a community that encourages, that teaches, and builds love between a couple will sustain, but V-day does NOT encourage this. But really what modern construction of love does? Most of all though, it's not on the liturgical calendar, so why make a big to-do about it (I believe that alot of people might think that although today's Valentine's day might be a bit secularized, the day devoted to the act of giving and appreciating and loving follows the Christian narrative--but to me it seems like such a humanistic holiday-separated from any true Christ narrative, i also feel like it's just another example of making Christ relevant to today, rather than us making ourselves an example of how radical He was)? It's not like we flat out deny that these are events happening in the world, but we simply don't make a big deal about them. Seth and I love each other, and we know that and are completely content in knowing that so we don't have to work to impress one another and compete with other representations of love to prove something.
The other week I was interviewed for an article about undergrads who are married for a Valentine issue of the Collegian. It was really well done, and I, who always am afraid that I'll be misquoted, was represented honestly I think. But I secretly wished I would have said something about how we won't be celebrating Valentine's, not because we're an old boring married couple, but because we don't try to be romantic, because Romance is not good in itself, it's flimsy. We're trying to be content in our lives and each other, and I think that's one of the most lovely things we can do for one another. Oh, and to love others to better love each other. That's why last year's Valentines was so good; we were surrounded by our favorite friends, good food (though I won't be cooking this year--cooking doesn't agree with my pregnancy hormones), and the comforts of a life that has been building around us.
And so this year, Valentines may or may not be the same, I'll get home from work, possibly exhausted and nauseous, but looking forward to a night where I can study, in my house, with my husband, with some friends if they want to come over to play video games, a stupid awesome doggie, and with the new life growing inside me; I couldn't think of anything better--and I get to do this everyday!

Happy Saturday! Spring came early. For a day or two!